Travel clubs aren't exactly new. They have existed in some form or another since the 1960s, offering getaways, travel planning and special perks to jet setters around the globe. But since the travel industry took a hit during the pandemic, declining 42% from 2019 to 2020, a new breed of travel clubs has emerged.
The travel clubs today offer some of the same member benefits and concierge services travelers appreciate, along with some new needs: health, safety and peace of mind.
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The Evolution of Travel Clubs
The idea of having someone else plan your vacation has been around for decades. The boom of the travel agent began in the 1960s, as airlines began computerizing their reservation systems. Travel agents were a traveler's "in" to booking airline tickets, hotels cruises and, later, vacation packages.
The rise of the internet started to steal travel agents' thunder, as travelers had access to book their own air, hotel stays and car rentals online. Travelers had more control over their planning, airfare and vacation budgeting than ever before.
Today's travel clubs take the stress out of planning and open opportunities for vacation club members to get out and explore while providing assurances about health, safety and availability of medical services that provide pandemic travelers with peace of mind.
But there remained a smaller set of travelers who enjoyed the concierge services of a travel agent, as well as those die-hard regular travelers who invested in timeshares and early vacation travel club memberships.
For an annual membership fee, travel clubs and loyalty programs provided low-effort travel planning for members, as well as perks like early check-in, upgrades, airfare miles and loyalty points.
In 2019 and 2020, when international travel came to a halt during the pandemic, the travel industry took the opportunity to evolve with the new needs and demands of a new global audience.
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Today's Travel Clubs
The pandemic brought uncertainly to many aspects of life, not the least of which affected the mobility of people from around the world. Travel advisories, travel bans, testing requirements, vaccination mandates and CDC guidance have become part of vacation plans, whether we like it or not.
Enter the new and improved travel club.
Having been largely grounded for the better part of two years, many travelers are feeling a wanderlust unmatched in recent years.
An early 2021 report by American Express found 78% of respondents had a thirst to travel to help relieve the pandemic-related stress of the previous year. And yet, as travel borders open up and travel advisories unfold, many travelers who are ready for adventure are looking to experts to take care of the travel plans.
Today's travel clubs take the stress out of planning and open opportunities for vacation club members to get out and explore while providing assurances about health, safety and availability of medical services that provide pandemic travelers with peace of mind. One of the more elite clubs, Exclusive Resorts, dedicates a page of their website to everything the club does to ensure guests' pandemic-related safety.
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Benefits of Travel Club Membership
Belonging to a travel club is a little bit like having a subscription to adventure. For an annual fee and commitment, the travel club member receives benefits that might include:
- travel planning and booking
- access to exclusive destinations
- personalized itineraries
- carefully curated events and experiences
- concierge services and amenities
- flexible cancellation and travel insurance policies
- connection with like-minded travelers
- exclusive benefits
Depending on what you are looking for, a travel club might offer something as simple as group discounts and specialized itineraries or as luxurious as African safaris or world-trip journies on a private jet. Depending on what you choose, a travel club will cost you a monthly, annual or multi-year fee. The fee might be modest, like $99 per year for TripAdvisor Plus, or $150,000 to join Exclusive Resorts for their 10-year plan.
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Is a Travel Club Right for You?
If you are ready to travel but want to leave the planning to an expert, or if you've found a great exclusive destination you just can't pass up, a travel club might be the way to go, especially with the new challenges of planning a vacation. There are clubs out there for every budget and level of membership benefits.
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- Wall Street Journal: WYSE Travel Confederation - https://www.wysetc.org/ Stressed by Vacation Planning? These ‘Travel Clubs’ Promise VIP-Style Service and Perks
- New York Times: Vaccines and Travel: What You Need to Know
- AARP: Should You Plan to Travel as the Pandemic Continues?
- CDC: Domestic Travel During Covid
- Barron's: The Resurgence of the Travel Agent
- U.S. Travel Association: COVID-19 Travel Industry Research
- American Express: Global Travel Trends Report
- Exclusive Resorts
- Prior Travel Club
- Conde Nast Traveler:Travel Subscription Services Are on the Rise—But Do They Really Save You Money?